Dubai/Europe face-off on July 20-22
The Victory and Qatar Teams can expect to feel the full force of a major ‘backlash’ from the European teams at the Norwegian Grand Prix in Arendal, round two of the WPPA Class 1 World Powerboat Championship on July 20-22. After grabbing the top four spots in the opening race of the season in Athens, only two European outfits, Spirit of Norway 10 and SeveneleveN, were in the top six the remaining four failing to go the distance.
Victory’s impressive one-two in the season-opener, with Victory 77’s newcomer, Arif Saif Al Zafeen and Jean Marc Sanchez leading home team-mates Ahmed Al Suwaidi and Nadir Bin Hendi, was the perfect start to their season, but with it now comes the added pressure of maintaining winning levels of performance. But the team head to Norway knowing that it is a venue where they have an outstanding record, with five wins from nine starts.
Norwegian waters have also proved good hunting-grounds for the Qatar Team, where Sheikh Hassan Al-Thani and Matteo Nicolini, Qatar 96, picked up their two wins in Oslo in 2004 and Trondheim in 2005, where they lifted the European title. But they are racing in Arendal for only the second time; the first was disappointing, fourth for Qatar 96 and seventh for Qatar 95. However, Sheikh Hassan, who lines up for his 30th Grand Prix, believes they are in good shape, confirming that they will maintain the same engine packages for both boats – with Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Luca Nicolini in Qatar 95 running Mercury Class 1 V8s and Qatar 96 Skema V12s.
The European challenge is spearheaded by Spirit of Norway, winner in Arendal in 2001, who salvaged seven valuable points last time out, despite having to make a pit-stop mid race. Team owner and driver, Bjorn Rune Gjelsten, has confirmed that they have carried out a lot of work on their boat after the problems in Athens – overhauling the electrics, the engine management system. A win in Arendal is what Spirit of Norway desperately needs – but not at any price, commented Gjelsten.
SeveneleveN’s Nicola Giorgi and Tomaso Polli head to Arendal in an upbeat mood after carving out a well-earned top sixth finish in Athens and, with a more powerful engine package, are confident they can produce another solid performance – albeit on a course that Nicola says won’t suit their boat.
Christian Zaborowski and Jorn Tandberg have put the disappointment of Athens – where they started from Pole Position but retired on lap 6 – behind them and will be looking to repeat last year’s performance here where they took their maiden Grand Prix win in the Mercury Class 1, V8-powered Jotun. Also looking to turn around their fortunes in Arendal are Negotiator, Foresti&Suardi and Spirit of Norway 20 – which has undergone a major refit. All are looking to find reliability to kick-start their season and make up for lost ground, with Italians, Ceschin and Ceriali seeking success in Overwave along with Class 1 newcomers, Marco Pennesi and Kurt Olsen in Veneta Marina.
Crucial to all the teams’ expectations and the outcome of the Norwegian Grand Prix will be the first running of the new format Edox Pole Position. This is being given greater significance in Arendal due to the two-row start formation caused by the narrow course putting even greater emphasis on teams to find the optimum performance right from the start. Qualifying will be split into two sessions: the first of 40 minutes, with all teams out on the water and given three laps to set a time that will put them in the top six and take them into the second session. This will be a 25 minute shoot-out to determine who will line up in pole position on the front row, with the teams who set times outside the top six lining up in positions 7 to 12 on the second – a distinct disadvantage.
The Norwegian Grand Prix is run on a fast, very narrow and demanding course – with little, if any, margin for error – of 95.72Nm, over 12 laps, including two mandatory long laps – the general consensus of opinion amongst the teams is, get to the first corner out front and you dictate the race!
CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS/POSITIONS – after round 1 of 8
1. Victory 77 – Al Zafeen (UAE)/Sanchez (FR) – 20pts
2. Victory 7 – Al Suwaidi (UAE)/Hendi (UAE) – 15pts
3. Qatar 96 – Al-Thani (QAT)/Nicolini (ITA) – 12pts
4. Qatar 95 – Al-Sulaiti (QAT)/L Nicolini (ITA) – 9pts
5. Spirit of Norway 10 – Gjelsten (NOR)/Curtis (GB) – 7pts
6. SeveneleveN 18 – Polli (ITA)/Giorgi (ITA) – 5pts
Foresti & Suardi 8 – Cirilli (ESP)/ Montavoci (ITA)
Spirit of Norway 20 – Barry-Cotter (AUS)/Nilsen (NOR)
Jotun 90 – Zaborowski (NOR)/Tandberg (NOR)
Negotiator 50 – Eker (NOR)/Parsonage (GB)
Overwave 11 – Ceriali (ITA)/Ceschin (ITA)